Multiple risk factors are important predictors in the development of diabetic nephropathy (DN). Once DN has developed, it progresses steadily to renal failure. To determine the rate of renal function decline and the parameters that influence the rate of decline, we retrospectively reviewed the charts of patients with DN who had undergone dialysis or kidney transplantation at the Mayo Clinic from 1983 to 1993. Forty patients were found to have two or more iothalamate clearance (IothmCl) measurements where a slope of renal function decline over time, expressed as mL/ min/month/1.73 m2, can be calculated. The parameters examined included age of onset and duration of diabetes (DM); age at initial presentation, insulin dosage, glycosylated hemoglobin level, proteinuria, blood pressure (BP), number of antihypertensive medications (HTM), use of ACE inhibitors, creatinine, and initial IothmCl. The mean overall decline of clearance was 1.36 +/- 1.1 mL/min/month, corrected. Univariate regression analysis showed that only systolic and mean BP (p < 0.05), use of HTM (p = 0.02), and the number of HTM used (p = 0.0001) correlated with the rate of clearance decline. No other parameter was significant. The decline of IothmCl was 0.72 +/- 0.41, 1.20 +/- 0.9, and 2.34 +/- 1.38 mL/min/month, for patients taking no HTM, < 3 HTM, and > or = 3HTM, respectively. Of the eight patients on HTM who presented with initial IothmCl of < 30 mL/min/1.73 m2, seven (88%) had clearance of < 10 mL/min/1.73 m2 within 1 yr. We conclude that hypertension is an important marker of DN progression, and that the more HTM required for control of BP, the faster the decline of renal function. We recommend that a suitable transplant candidate with DN who presents with hypertension requiring HTM and a clearance of < 30 mL/min should be placed on the transplant waiting list.